At Mother Nature's Mercy
Uncertainty over status of Olympics' final round leaves players anxious but hopeful
Nelly Korda warms up on the putting green ahead of the third round of the women's Olympic competiton.
As the sun beat down late on a steamy Friday afternoon at Kasumigaseki Country Club, American Nelly Korda holding a three-shot lead through three rounds of the women’s Olympic competition, the same question lingered on everyone’s minds:
Will there be a fourth round come Saturday?
Tropical storm Mirinae was moving steadily towards the eastern coast of Japan on Friday, carrying rain, lightning and gusty winds that could potentially keep the 60-player field from completing the remaining 18 holes of the scheduled 72-hole competition.
Officials with the International Golf Federation, adamant about giving players every opportunity to complete the entire competition, have devised a schedule that attempts to sneak in the last round on Saturday. They’ve moved up tee times an hour early so play begins at 6:30 a.m. local time, and will send players off the first and 10th tees in a mad dash to get everything in before the wet weather arrives.
“Luckily overnight the tropical storm we’ve been tracking has shifted 25 miles to the east, so a little bit further away from us,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, an LPGA executive and technical delegate with the IGF. “So the forecast looks a little bit better for tomorrow morning. We’re going to have potential windows where we can play.”
That said, Daly-Donofrio acknowledged there is a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms come late Saturday morning, the number increasing throughout the afternoon. And the chance of rain lingers at 50 percent.
Of course, everybody is hoping for the best, given the way the current leader board has shaken out. Korda, the No. 1 player in the world, continues to be out front after shooting a third-round 69, her advantage over India’s wonderkid Aditi Ashok, the No. 200 player in the world, shrunk by one from the start of play Friday and two less than it was mid-way through the round.
Five back of Korda and three behind Ashok in a tie for third are a foursome of players, include major winners Lydia Ko and Hannah Green and Japan’s hopeful Mone Inami.
Should the weather prevent them from finishing play on Saturday, the golfers could return to the course on Sunday to try to wrap things up. However, the chance for rain increases to 80 percent with one to two inches expected to fall.
If they are unable to finish 72 by Sunday—Olympic rules prohibit any competitions from running past the Closing Ceremony, which begin at 8 p.m. on Sunday—officials have said that the competition will revert back to where things stood after 54 holes.
“We’ve been very transparent about this with the athlete all week, explaining the situation,” Daly-Donofrio said.
Asked if she played differently on Friday, knowing that potentially the third round could also be the last, Korda claimed she didn’t.
“My mindset is 72 holes so I'm sticking to that,” Korda said. “I'm trying to give myself opportunities and make them, that's all. I'm trying to stay as present as possible and see how it goes.”
Given the poor outlook for the weekend, some on social media wondered if IGF officials should have called off the final round early so that players knew what they were playing for while competing in the third round on Friday? Daly-Donofrio remained steadfast with her answer.
“The forecast isn’t so foreboding that would cause us to cancel that round [early],” Daly-Donofrio said. “So we are seeing improvement in the storm system and its potential impact on the competition. But it’s the Olympic Games and we want to try to finish the competition as planned and give these athletes the opportunity to play 72 holes.”
“I tried to get myself together and post a good round today,” said Ko, a silver medalist golf’s return to the Olympics five years ago in Rio, explaining her mindset in playing Friday’s round with the uncertainty of whether that was the third or the final round. “You’re trying to grind your heart out there. I don’t know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. But I really, really, really hope we get to play.”
Should the competition revert to the leader board at the end of play Friday, officials would attempt to hold a playoff would to determine the bronze medal winner from Ko, Green, Inami and Emily Kristine Pedersen. Daly-Donofrio said that the intention would be to hold those playoffs on Saturday or Sunday if necessarily, with flexibility as to which holes will be used in order to successful compete play.